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GIG: Mountain Goats @ King Tut's, 29/5/11

(c) Atmz (2011)

"...the truest stories are the ones that aren't factual at all."
- JD,
with a stage wink and a half-turn

I suppose I'm ashamed to admit my shock at finding John Darnielle to be such a happy man. I suppose I'm surprised because much of his old stuff deals in abjection - and even the recent stuff is deceptively cheerful. They open in matching suits with a slightly lounge take on 'Jeff Davis County Blues' - but he knows it's lounge. (He seems always to know what he's up to, which makes criticism of this band a joy).

Playlist of the set here

He gapes and grins with silent mania on the fast numbers - like Jim Carrey in his darker moments, or Tommy Cooper's thoughtful ones. He's thus quite the actor, since each song is a day in a different character's head. (And usually a bad day, but spiritualized in its bleakness.) He keeps throwing his head back - half to keep his glasses on while thrashing his guitar, half perhaps because the rock cliché amuses him. Ponderous people really like his ballads, but he tells the stories on the hop here, goofy with fun. Given their music's typical tone, that makes for dissonance: Oh god I hate her but there's no way out; that fucking baby, this fucking heat." Darnielle live: "These people won't ever break up! (Teehee!)"

Is his grin a grimace? What's needed to work oneself up to such declamations?

(c) Lism (2011)

Anyway: far be it from me to shit on fun. Compelled and so compelling, Darnielle boyishly delivers his poems that are anything but boyish. He's jolly, chunky, and shaggy by this point of the tour, which makes for a pleasing contrast with the fanbase (90% male, 80% troubled, 70% bespectacled, 60% stick-thin, 50% bearded...)."But that's cos I'm a big ol' goofus"

My friend reckons he's drunk - but I reckon in return that you can't do his signature whiplash strum while tanked-up. The other band members depart for the middle third of the show: the slow jams. Alone, he backburns beautifully, looks at his fret-hand, chin back.

The other two are mute throughout, except for occasional, mild backing vox from bassist Peter Hughes. (So no comment from me, either.)

We want his characters to rage. Much of his old stuff fetishises the mundane, thirteen sets of portraits of ordinary madness. But All Eternals Deck is about extraordinary madness instead: aging Satanists, aging celebrities, self-dramatizing speedfreaks. (So too is the album before that - if you see religious love as the extraordinary thing it is.) Religion is his most potent theme, stretched out uncommonly deep - the Dante of Durham, North Carolina saying that romantic love is analogous to faith.

He intros half the songs with a candid explanatory schtick: 'Of Charles Bronson' - "A terrible example of a person with a gigantic chip on his shoulder, but made great by it. (Like everyone in the history of the world!)"; the storming "Prowl Great Cain" about an amoralist on release from prison; and "Damn these Vampires", about some speedfreaks, "people who are almost certainly dead by now, whose names I never knew, but who certainly knew how to colonize a fella's bedroom without an invite for twelve hours."

I'm not sure how much weight we should give these deadpan and definitive explanations - a quick skim of Youtube comments shows that he does lots of them, incoherently. But when he tells us a theology student fan sent him a paper on the Life of the World to Come, it's not hard to suspend disbelief. (Doesn't that sound just like what we're like?)

Worst, he claims that the Alpha Couple are real, people he still knows, still horribly together.


We swiftly get an encore, because he doesn't want our "raging through the streets seeking something to destroy, something precious to destroy" on his conscience.

He tells us that "Psalms 40:2" is about these, "
the most American, disgusting thing". But he recants that for the last song. He admonishes those of us who are in the habit of only talking down one's home. It's really got a hold on us, after all, no matter where it is.

SETLIST1. Jeff Davis County Blues
2. Old College Try
3. For Charles Bronson
4. Rotten Stinkin Mouthpiece
5. Hast Thou?
6. Minnesota
7. Sign of the Crow (pt. 2)

8. San Bernardino
9. Matthew 25:21
10. There Will Be No Divorce
11. Woke up New
12. Seeing Daylight
13. Love Love Love
14. Prowl Great Cain
15. Damn These Vampires
16. No Children

18. Psalms 40:2
19. This Year
20. California Song